2012 NFL Draft could turn with Seahawks, Patriots, Browns

The lights come on, the cameras start rolling, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell walks to the podium. And there, the 2012 NFL Draft begins.

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But with the lack of suspense associated with the first and second picks Thursday -- Andrew Luck to the Indianapolis Colts, Robert Griffin III to the Washington Redskins -- the process won't kick into gear until a little later. As draft historians fondly recall, there are always first-round moments where the fun really starts.

Last year, it was the Atlanta Falcons moving up a whopping 21 spots to select Alabama receiver Julio Jones, forcing teams to turn up the volume on their draft-room TVs. Other years, it's been the fascination with New England Patriots wheeler and dealer Bill Belichick trading in the back end of the first round.

What will define the 2012 edition? A handful of NFL decision makers and evaluators present some options:

Seahawks stand on a cliff

As far as John Schneider is concerned, he stands on the precipice. The Seattle Seahawks general manager views this year's crop of players as having several tiers. "Little cut-offs or ledges," he calls them. Based on the evaluations of the Seahawks staff, Schneider believes one ledge comes around the 12th or 13th selection, a separation between the elite and the really good.

That's why, with the 12th pick, Schneider thinks of himself as a man with his toes on the edge, ready to grab a big-time player or leap at a big-time trade. This is where he sees the draft turning.

Teams could be scrambling to get up to 10, 11 or 12 to nab the slippers and sliders. Schneider is expecting activity either way.

"We have to be prepared for other people to come to us," Schneider told NFL.com. "Either we have to be strong and just sit there and take a really cool player or be able to negotiate in a fast manner with a team trying to get up and just decide whether -- say they give you two picks -- if those two players would be worth the guy we'd be giving up."

Other teams see different separations. One AFC personnel chief believes his cliff includes eight players. A rival GM has 18 players in all with first-round grades.

Schneider said he is set on two players who will be "very attractive" for his team at 12. He feels like he'll have a chance to draft at least one, though he wouldn't offer an identity. What he doesn't know is if a team will leap ahead of him and nab his guy. He's ready if that happens, though.

Schneider separates the players into categories of possibilities for each spot. If he trades to 17, he has a group of players there. If he trades into the second round, there's another cluster of players.

"We don't change our board," Schneider said. "We just know if we get out, instead of looking at this one player, we have a chance to get these two players in such and such round."

While the draft could hum along until the Seahawks selection, Schneider anticipates a decision: Pick one of his two coveted players or take an attractive offer?

"We have to be prepared for a couple different scenarios when we're picking," he said.

Who will make the big trade?

For years, the first round of the draft has been defined by the big trade. From the New Orleans Saints trading all of their picks for Ricky Williams in 1999 to the New York Giants dealing for Eli Manning in 2004, that is what leaves everyone talking.

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The most recent example was when the Falcons dealt for Jones, of course, a move that is still debated. Both the Browns and Falcons are confident the deal served their purposes. The most likely candidate this year to turn the draft with a trade is the Patriots. Belichick loves nothing more than to defy convention with a deal. He has ammunition.

Two first-round picks and two second-round picks provide New England ample opportunity to make a trade. With the 27th and 31st picks, Belichick could even move up without losing a first-rounder. He could send one second-rounder to move up several slots to select, for instance, LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers or Alabama safety Mark Barron. Brockers could be the next Richard Seymour and Barron could solidify a leaky spot.

The Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals, who both have two first-round picks, could also be in position to make a power move and dictate the process.

Where will Tannehill go?

While the early draft buildup surrounded Luck and Griffin, the passing debate recently has been about Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill. The 6-foot-4, former receiver has been a starter for less than two seasons, completing 62 percent of his passes and collecting 29 touchdowns against 15 interceptions as a senior.

He's considered the third-best quarterback, capable of going No. 4 to the Browns, No. 8 to the Miami Dolphins or who-knows-where after that? Precisely where the rangy athlete ends up could have wide-ranging ramifications.

"Wherever somebody had him, that's probably where they still have him," Browns GM Tom Heckert told reporters this week. "He is a good player and he's obviously very new to the position, having played wide receiver. He is a good football player."

If Tannehill is left for the Dolphins at No. 8, perhaps they reunite him with former Texas A&M coach and current Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman. The former Aggies head man hasn't returned calls from opposing scouts recently to discuss his prospect, forcing the league to guess about his feelings for Tannehill.

"The one that's gonna shake things up is Tannehill," one high-ranking AFC personnel chief said. "I don't think a lot of teams think of him as a first-round pick. I can see a situation where he doesn't go at all in the top 20. That's really going to change things. You got a guy who started for a year and a half. He hasn't really been, from a team perspective, a winning quarterback. He's got good numbers, there's a lot of things there (to like). But they lost a lot of games in the fourth quarter. Why is he not pulling things out? Why are they losing games?"

The official doesn't list Tannehill as a top-20 prospect, and neither does at least one other AFC team. Do the Dolphins? Maybe. But what if Sherman isn't as big a fan as it seems?

One decision maker, who would not be named, painted an interesting scenario, where the mercurial Dolphins pass on Tannehill. What then?

"If Miami doesn't grab him, and they got Mike Sherman there, the teams behind them are going to start questioning, what the hell are we doing taking him?" he said. "If his own coach won't take him, why are we taking him?"

Follow Ian Rapoport on Twitter @rapsheet

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